Monday, 30 December 2013

2013 - That Was The Year That Was

Personally the odd years seem to be going the best for me so far.... I am now engaged! Also managed to move house and go on holiday twice - to Barbados and Cyprus!

Outside the personal tho:

What did I enjoy this year?

Website of the year - The Atlantic - always got something new to say. I do seem to enjoy reading US news websites more than UK ones - they almost seem more thoughtful, and less self-regarding than a lot of UK sites (e.g. BBC, Guardian etc - who I often feel do have an agenda and pick stories to match that).

Books including "The Northern Clemency" and "The Lost Continent"

Like everyone else I enjoyed Breaking Bad, and have been using Netflix to binge-watch the remake of "House of Cards", "Rome" and "Dawson's Creek" recently as well. 

Some achievements this year

Giving up Twitter for Lent - which is becoming more and more fashionable - you saw it here first ;)

Working with others in the Lib Dem party about the validity of OMOV for internal committees within the Lib Dems

Helping publish "The Coalition and Beyond" as part of Liberal Reform.

Rolling over resolutions for next year

I wanted to publish something in the Staggers or on Comment is Free however didn't get round to it. Other than my professional goals some other things I want to achieve next year are potentially signing up to a qualification in psychology, and buying a new car. Saving for a house deposit as well.

Here's to a great 2014 and best of luck to you and yours! Happy New Year! 

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Harville Hendrix may be a liberal....

I've got a lot of time for Harville Hendrix. He's a marital counsellor, and I've discovered him through Psychology Today, and other areas of the internet. In an nutshell, for those that aren't familar with him, he argues that if we can see the other person's point of view, and reduce our perception to a perspective - i.e. admit that we may not be correct - it's just the way we see the world and other viewpoints can be just as valid - that helps in marriages and other relationships. It boils down to "I see what you mean, I disagree, (perhaps including "I'm sad about that" if that's the way you feel) and that's OK" as far as I can divine. 

Now, what good can a relationship / marital counsellor's advice have to offer us in the political sphere? Well, again I was struck by a blog of Hopi Sen's this week, about a twitter break. I did the same thing over Lent, take an enforced break from twitter. The thing that interested me most about Hopi's article was that he says he was resisting the temptation to point out that people are WRONG.

Which provoked me to look up this article by Harville. It's a fantastic piece that I recommend you read all the way through, combining politics, philsophy and psychology - which would be my dream degree by the way - as an analysis of the human condition, and may have some thought-provoking points for you.

In particular tho, I was struck by the fact Harville says something distinctly liberal: 

"You know, it reminds me on a personal scale of something that happens on a political scale of well. I'm thinking of utopias — how we have this dream of a perfect society characterized by unanimity and perfection but, in fact, utopias tend to either fall apart or turn disastrous fairly quickly.  Whereas if you accept that differences of opinion exist instead of trying to eradicate them, you can achieve a more stable society. It sounds like the same goes for relationships — that the dream of unanimity and perfection is ultimately destructive."
It reminds me of why I am a liberal, thinking that if people want to dance to repetitve beats in the countryside, where a farmer has agreed for them to use his land that should be allowed if it's not harming anyone else. But as human beings, at least at the moment, many people want to stop other people living differently to them.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Least credit worthy regions : bad news for the NW.

I read with interest this piece in the Times  (£) yesterday on the least credit-worthy regions.

"After the North East, people from Lancashire, Wales, the West and Yorkshire had the lowest average credit ratings, according to research by, the comparison website."

A note of warning - it could be that people have such low credit ratings because they've never had credit, however this survey indicates there is a lot of debt in the region (expressed as a household debt-ratio)

With interest, because I'm always interested in the North West and how it performs against other regions. I think Manchester and surrounding areas are great places to live, as I've blogged about before.

We can see that the NW is suffering in the housing market "boom" that Osborne is so keen on - people aren't getting on the housing ladder. 

Now we all know that correlation isn't necessarily causation, but both items paint a less than positive picture of the NW, and also wage growth and debt management in the region. It costs more to rent, and with the growth of buy-to-let, it could be we are setting up an entire generation to not own their own home, and most worryingly, having to pay rent out of their post-retirement income.

Monday, 4 November 2013

The Political Party and the political party member

A line in my thinking this week has been along the lines of the political party - or "in group" and it's effect on politicians. Before I start, this is all opinion and conjecture, and merely documenting my thoughts at this stage, as a kind of conversation starter rather than experiential, yet. You might look on it as a hypothesis of a sort.

As I read more about coping strategies and the role of the individual in managing their own stress - and reaching for a coherent and integrated self, I keep coming up against the same thing - the role of the political party. 

For I think in a number of cases, it's the desire to remain close and loyal to ones party that can lead to cognitive dissonance - if you values tell you one thing, however your party needs you to be obedient in the pursuit of greater aims, strategy and vision, then that is going to cause you cognitive dissonance, which can be damaging. I think it's not so much the same as that in a place of work - where you do at least have the potential to work elsewhere - there aren't as many political parties as there are workplaces, and therefore one's choice is restricted, and therefore one's autonomy. It's very all or nothing - tho in some political parties policy can be altered by the members - my own included - you'd be exhausted if you had to do that on every point you disagreed with. And if you didn't feel like at least challenging group or party policy sometimes, then I suppose you'd be a perfect party member, and *pop* suddenly you don't exist.*

I think it's worthwhile reflecting on this, so that's what I'll be doing. 

*This is both an old joke about Descartes and comment on how difficult it is to always agree with your party.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Some Ministers Are Better Than Others

I know it would be really hard to be a government minister - I've seen some fairly robust, (if we are fair minded about the current executive/legislature setup) decent and clear defences over how recently promoted ministers have had to change the way they were going to vote on an issue. And as my partner will know, in private to people I trust, I can have robust criticisms which I think are fair minded, of our own Lib Dem ministers.

However, it's quite striking as Steve Webb goes on to build on the success of NEST and auto-enrolment to start taking on unfair pension charges, that some ministers are more competent than others. You can tell it's the right target, in this case with pension charges, if the only criticism is it's not going far enough. This man understands his brief, and the more he does, the more I approve. OK, the triple lock is more likely to benefit others than me - as the generation I am in is likely to both work till they are 70, and personally I think we are probably going to have a degree of means-testing on our pensions by the time I retire. But overall I think he's doing a fantastic job.

It appears his objectives are SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. He knows what he's doing.

Meanwhile, Iain Duncan Smith seems very well intentioned but... well, doesn't seem to be having as much success. I queried the aims of Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments at the time, but some told me to wait and see. So I waited, and we have seen. PIPs are in chaos and UC is beset by more and more delays. I do think, unlike some, that a lot of the Tories including IDS are well intentioned, but sometimes suffer from either lack of attention to detail or over ambition, or both.

So, Webb 2 IDS 0 so far, wonder what the score will be at the end of the term? 

Monday, 14 October 2013

The unexamined life of an activist and other Liberal Democrat animals

This blog post from earlier this year, "Argonauts of the incredibly specific: Anthropological field notes on the Liberal Democrat animal" is superb, and the author should be given a column in Ad Lib immediately.

They also state:

"If you are reading a blog for peer-reviewed, citable, academia then you should seek help. Stick around though, I quote Napoleon later."

So I'm not doing that, but I do think this blog is excellent, because of acute observations like this

"If you want to be an MP it helps to be rich, charismatic, likeable, hard-working, lucky, good with the media, have a good back story, have a solid track record with the party, and good at campaigning. But you don’t need to be any of these things. 
The only thing you absolutely need is ridiculous, and I mean absolutely ridiculous, levels of self-belief. This is because no rational human being would ever want to do it. 
 If you want to be an MP you must give up all semblance of a normal life for years, often decades, at a time. You must be unemployed, or have a very patient employer and a meaningless job, for about a year before the election. You must surrender all meaningful contact with friends and family. In the months before an election you must spend around twenty hours a day shaking hands, smiling, and making token purchases. 
And if you are not driven completely insane by this you also have to come to terms with the fact that there is a very very good chance that you are going to lose, that it will all have been for nothing, and that you have to wait four more years and then have another go – only it will be harder the next time because now you are tagged as a loser." 

"Campaigners work around 90 hours a week and there is a machismo culture around who can do the longest hours. Unsurprisingly Campaigners live on a diet of nicotine, alcohol, coffee, and anything with lots of sugar in it. Perhaps surprisingly Campaigners have not yet discovered crystal meth."
Then, after following a Facebook status where a friend talked about a non-political activity she had enjoyed and other people all commented that this was good and healthy, I googled BurnoutHerbert J. Freudenberger and Gail North have concluded that the burnout process can be divided into 12 phases, which don't have to be followed sequentially.

These include:

The Compulsion to Prove Oneself
Often found at the beginning is excessive ambition. This is one's desire to prove themselves while at the workplace. This desire turns into determination and compulsion

Working Harder
Because they have to prove themselves to others or try to fit in an organization that does not suit them, people establish high personal expectations. In order to meet these expectations, they tend to focus only on work while they take on more work than they usually would. It may happen that they become obsessed with doing everything themselves. This will show that they are irreplaceable since they are able to do so much work without enlisting in the help of others

Revision of Values
In this stage, people isolate themselves from others, they avoid conflicts, and fall into a state of denial towards their basic physical needs while their perceptions change. They also change their value systems. The work consumes all energy they have left, leaving no energy and time for friends and hobbies. Their new value system is their job and they start to be emotionally blunt

Losing contact with themselves, it's possible that they no longer see themselves or others as valuable. As well, the person loses track of their personal needs. Their view of life narrows to only seeing in the present time, while their life turns to a series of mechanical functions

Well, it's made me think..... In the words of Jerry Springer - look after yourselves and each other.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

In defence of Call Centres

Some young people don't like Job Centres. There's a blog about it explaining why for Liberal Youth . This is one of those cases where I've listened very hard to people I disagree with in order to understand them - something Seth Godin advocates. 

I disagree - I don't think the problem is all down to the job centre. As other people on twitter - (@_TommyLong and @make_trouble) have agreed with me, there is the need to try jobs, even "crap ones" in order to get started on your career. 

We've found that we, and other successful people started in crap office jobs, or tried out different careers to build up skills. We can't just educate skills - and this is somewhat of a pup I think current graduates have been sold. It's apparent there is a huge skills gap - it seems odd to have the most educated workforce ever, come bottom of the table for literacy and numeracy, and also to have so many young people unemployed. I ask could all these problems be related?

I think call centre jobs are excellent places to pick up skills. I've also been told that people may not have been offered those jobs as they didn't have the right skills and experience - this contrasts completely with my own experience where I picked up many skills and got promoted - my CV was collapsing under the strain of the amount of experience I picked up - they are fast paced environments with much "support" work to be done. 

Call centre jobs are often called "modern day factories". This is probably a decent analogy.

Tho I went into the conversation thinking the problem was one of expectation (I've been told directly before, "I didn't go to university so I could work in a call centre" - an attitude which quite simply, sucks)  I think now perhaps it's also one of framing - somewhere has been bred an expectation that the system will find you the perfect job, rather than thinking you may need to try a few things, picking experience up along the way, until you find the right one for you, or pick up enough experience to apply for your perfect job.

After all, we definitely advise our kids that with respect to romance, so why not work as well? 

Monday, 7 October 2013

Reshuffle & redundancy

Big news day - reshuffle, which will probably be analysed a lot over the next few days - what it means for the coalition, what it means for the referendum, what it means for women and obviously for the ministers themselves.

I've seen a couple of comments about how tough it is on advisors, and that's a good point - as ministers often bring in their own Special Advisors, they may leave with the ministers, in fact are likely to.

Imagine losing your job because your boss had lost theirs - perhaps you (and they!) had been doing a great job but it was decided everything needed a new direction (which is given as the reason Michael Moore has been replaced with Alistair Carmichael, though clearly will still need to take a bit of a Michael into the Scottish job....*) . I suppose it's another way that politics differs from "normal" life - if your boss lost their job due to a restructure, and so did you, you should at least receive some sort of redundancy payment to tide you over.....

*think cryptic crossword clues

Thursday, 15 August 2013

500 words on word count.

I asked twitter if one could actually write 500 words on word count and got about 5 replies which made me think I’m going to have to do this thing, write a piece of that length without hesitation  deviation or repetition, and as @MissMillicent said it should be in the style of Just A Minute.

Here goes:

So, what is a “word count” and why is it such a tough master ? Is it that hard to get around? Two eminent journalists – Isabel Hardman ofthe Spectator and Dan Hodges of the Telegraph both talked about the superfluousness of “that” – a word that doesn’t seem to offer much use in the vast majority of sentences it is used in, when it comes to analysis, so it just has to be removed. The son of Glenda Jackson repeated however “no matter how many times I remove it the little bugger always sneaks right back in”.

At school, I always thought I was quite well blessed on the ability to hit a word count, and at one time, inflated by ego, thought I could do it automatically. This isn’t so, as much more screeds have been composed by me in the intervening period where I have struggled with the word count – more going over it than having to fill it, if I am perfectly honest.

When faced with 700 of your most passionate words and the necessity to have to cut 200 of them, especially if you are trying to get across an novel idea, or persuade and educate your audience, every word appears very precious and you become a kind of Gollum figure, will this sentence lose it’s meaning too much if you lost the  beautiful phrase with which you are exceeding your limit?

And then self-doubt sets in – as brevity is more or less always better than long-winded prose – is it really so valid what you’re saying at all? This lack of confidence must be avoided and it’s better to go back to thinking all of your mots are most definitely bon…..

But what if you are under limit? A case that is confronting me, as I regret saying 500 words at the outset of this challenge and wonder how I can find another 125 – the Word “Word Count” feature must be one of it’s most tortuous aspects, especially now it is in the lower left hand corner, like a small aggravating playmate at school “you can’t do it”, it chants as you eke out more and more description to locate the finish line.

As the iron bands of a word count exert their pressure as you get closer and closer, one reflects on the self-discipline of being able to bring all your thoughts under control within a frame imposed, it seems, at random.

If we didn’t have word counts, our readers would be bored, and in times of yore, the words wouldn’t have been printed. So all hail the word count, saviour of writers the whole world wide! 

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

OMOV for FPC / FCC / FE elections

Originally posted on LibDemVoice here: 

Coalition has exposed and accentuated the differences between two powerbases within the party: the leadership and it’s governing committees. And though both are elected, it feels to me as an ordinary member that I have no chance of influencing either.  

I stand outside both at the moment, I'm not in the leadership and I don't contribute to the Federal Policy Committee, Federal Conference Committee or Federal Executive, nor would I stand a chance of being elected as I'm not well known enough. I'm a board member for Liberal Reform, campaigning for reform within the party, but writing from a personal perspective.

I want to change things, and don't exclude the Lib Dems from the need for that. I see that there are differences, and that both power blocs within the party claim sovereignty over the other.

This leads to a deadlock, and though we are praised for our unity, it doesn't feel like we have a distinct purpose or aim, as a whole – e.g. the Social Liberal Forum (who have many representatives on FPC / FCC) could sign up to "stronger economy, fairer society enabling everyone to get on in life" as a number of their aims could be included under that strapline. But I don’t see them reference this. SLF seem most concerned about “Osbornomics” and this to me appears we are more focussed on our differences than any shared purpose.

Therefore, coalition throws up the problem that the leadership and the FPC / FCC do not seem to be signed up to the same aims, and reference different agenda to get their point across – there seem to be people thirsting for fights in Glasgow over the 50p tax rate, our policy on tuition fees/graduate tax and welfare.

Is this the best environment to make policy? I'm not advocating "why don't we all just get along?" as I recognise debate and arguments can be good for giving everyone a fair say and allow us to settle contentious issues and move on to the policy of the future. But, people within the different factions looking at the other side as something to be suspicious of, does not make for good communication. 

I believe the party's democratic deficit - the lack of OMOV (one member, one vote) for FPC and FCC -  contributes to different stances from the leadership and the membership. Shibboleths exist such as "conference is sovereign". It quite clearly isn't when we are in government, which leads to members getting very frustrated when they lead campaigns, get issues debated at conference and then are more or less ignored.  Plus, from the leadership a certain frustration is detectable about Lib Dem policy making not being “grown up” enough. I'm not unsympathetic to either view. They could both be right.

We elected a leader (through OMOV) who seems to have a different ethos than that of the FPC/FCC, (elected by conference reps). The electorate for the two different power bases is different and in addition, it may be that people look for different things in a leader (good communication skills) from what they do for elected committee members (people they agree with). It does appear though that in our president, Tim Farron,  OMOV can elect a representative with both good communication skills for the wider electorate, and someone they want to represent them.

So I’d like OMOV for the FPC/FCC as aligning the electorates for both positions to a more democratic method, would be a step in the right direction, and almost imperative for a party with the word Democrat in its name. 

Friday, 2 August 2013

Modern Feminism And Its Discontents

Dan Hodges is not impressed with Modern Feminism . He takes "Modern Feminism" as defined by campaigns to get women on banknotes and scantily clad women off newsagents shelves as being superficial and ultimately pointless - "tweaking men's agenda" rather than writing our own.

In part, he has a point. 

I've not been supportive of the No More Page 3 campaign or the Lose The Lads Mags campaign. This is partly due to a dash of liberalism - I'm as much defending a women's right to pose naked if she wants to as her right not to listen to abuse. I don't like either Page 3 or Lads Mags, and actually some of the misogynistic language in the latter is quite troubling, but it's mostly down to taste.

Domestic violence, killing two women every week in the UK, is a far bigger issue facing women. 

But I think he's wrong about Modern Feminism. The EveryDay Sexism Project has been of earth-shattering importance for me - mostly down to it's work on women being sexually harrassed in public space.

To realise that I didn't have to put up with being sexually harrassed in the street, names and  "flirtations" called out to me in the street, was a dramatic wake up call. Nobody had ever told me this. In fact I'd never really discussed it, even with other women, it before the EveryDay Sexism Project - but when I began to, many of my friends had had similar experiences. 

Feminism is needed, and twitter has brought us, in EveryDay Sexism, at least one campaign that is very valuable, to me personally, to other women and to our society as a whole. There are tangible outcomes - British Transport police are using this campaign to reach out to victims to explain the very real assistance they can offer - as this is a crime. 

This is perhaps small beer to some, but as a part of this new environment, I felt able to complain to a mechanic's boss when he used "darling" as a put-down due to an altercation over a refund, last week. Two years ago, I wouldn't have felt able to do that. Not that I'm backwards in coming forwards, but that I thought such insults were just "par for the course", and you had to put up with them, part of being a women yadda yadda.

The other question we need to ask is we, as Modern Feminists, do have long running campaigns to cut out domestic and sexual abuse / harrassment. So, why do the Lose the Lads Mags campaigns get more coverage? Could it be because it's a chance to get a pretty glamour model on the TV, defending her profession? In which case even the rise of the Page 3 et all campaigns maybe symptomatic of the problem, rather than a fight against them.

Ultimately Dan argues that we should be standing for more things. I agree, but when I put forward the facts of Diane Abbott's candidature for Labour leadership he dismissed her as a "token candidate". When I put forward Sharon Bowles standing for Bank of England Governor  another journalist dismissed her as an "outsider".  

So it's not that women aren't standing for high profile roles, it's that they apparently aren't good enough, or, that the wrong women are standing. That is a problem. And that's going to take a lot longer than one article to solve. 

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Correcting some nonsense in the porn debate

David Cameron wants to get ISPs to force households to opt in to porn. This has received wide coverage and is the subject of much conversation on Twitter.

My own opinion is, though it's not my thing, it clearly is to a lot of people. Therefore I tolerate it - as this is more about taste than anything else. I also think the idea of "porn filters" is quite unlikely to work, as people will use proxies and other IT workarounds to get around it. I'm also a liberal, so I'm pretty against banning things, but to argue porn has only had positive effects is probably naive or possibly disingenuous. So, that said, I'm probably somewhere in the middle of this argument.

However, there were two utter pieces of nonsense, on the side of the "liberals", written yesterday.

One was that porn filters would break up marriages

"Some men (and women) in happy relationships may secretly watch pornography without their partner’s knowledge. This, as Mr Cameron admits, will force them to fess up or abstain. A husband whose wife finds he has secretly turned off the porn filter could find himself in trouble – possibly straining the institution Mr Cameron cares most about: marriage"

Apart from being a desperate attempt to link back to Cameron to show some perceived "inconsistency", it's absolute nonsense. If a marriage is at risk because porn filters mean a man has to "fess up" to watching porn, then they are either incompatible or their values are fundamentally different - anyone lying to their partner like that, or having such differences, has issues in their relationship.  So it's the lying that may kill the relationship, not the filters.  

Next up for my ire, this Tory Reform Group piece, saying that Cameron had clearly made this move to "appeal to women".

"First and foremost, the Conservative leadership knows that it has a problem attracting female voters. From the fallout from the now infamous “Calm down dear” jibe to Labour’s Angela Eagles, Mr. Cameron is often portrayed as being out of touch with women and their concerns. So, what could be better than a campaign to protect children from the evils of pornography? Surely that could only endear him to the legions of mothers up and down the land."

 As you see, all women are mothers and also opposed to porn. A twitter user (@Lord_Palmerston) replied they thought this point was sarcastic but I disagree as the other points in the TRG's "threefold" attack are not sarcastic. 

So I put it that TRG are sexist, and wrong. I've had women all over my twitter feed objecting to the idea of porn filters, so it's basically nonsense, again. 

Moreover, I dislike both of these pieces for the "Men vs. Women" theme through them both, and really hope this debate doesn't turn into another War of the Sexes, because if there's one thing I can tell about this whole thing, it's not that.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Book Review "The Lost Continent" - Gavin Hewitt

On my holidays earlier this year, I read "The Lost Continent" by Gavin Hewitt, the BBC News's Europe Editor, about the causes, effects and response to the European financial crisis, with its outlying crises in Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. 

It was a great read and I heartily recommend it to any of you, especially those going on holiday as it both rewards in-depth attention and travel makes a good backdrop to its change of focus between different countries. I find travel often makes me think about the world as a whole, so this book is a great accompaniment to that mood. 

He opens with a dramatic image of a one-man-and-a-cement-mixer protest outside the Irish Parliament in September 2010. As an image it's arresting, and it also proclaims the structure of the rest of the book. Hewitt Starting chapters often with human stories, both at the micro level of individual people in the country whose lives have been adversely affected by the economic crisis, and contrastingly, the leaders at the top of the food chain.

Special focus is given to Angela Merkel, as the "pivot" for a lot of the resolution to the (many) crises, and I came to understand how her innate cautiousness was responsible for the (at times) seemingly glacial progress of the response. Our own response as Britain receives a chapter's worth of attention, though you are reminded once again how little part we played here.

If like me, you've lived through the crisis, but really only been aware of the day-to-day headlines, this is a fantastic book to get a handle on a lot of the big picture and the machinery of government behind the scenes. Themes that I became more aware of included the extent of the property speculation within PIGS - Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain - and how exposed this left a lot of their businesses, banks and governments. At one point he describes how an airport was built facing the wrong way in Spain, because of the scramble to build prestige projects, and baffled locals had been rode roughshod over because of a need for "development" which wasn't actually there. It is that level of detail which really makes the point again and again, rather than the sheer mind-numbing size of sums required to bail out countries - though those numbers and the reasons for them are also explored very well.

Hewitt seems opposed to the idea of further integration, and though some of us may have a different view, or be waiting to see what is proposed before making a decision it is definitely a good account of the major players and individuals affected by and responding to the crisis. I'd venture to say you shouldn’t miss out on reading it, and I'm sure it will be an important book both now and in the years ahead, as we place what just happened in historical context. 

This post originally appeared on LibDemVoice here:

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Social Liberal Forum Conference in Manchester : a different experience

I went to my second SLF conference on a very hot Saturday in Manchester. You can read the review from my first one, last year,  here

First impressions were it was all very well organised and I saw a number of familiar faces and friends, including John Leech MP. I was accosted once for being a member of Liberal Reform - having run the Liberal Reform stand at the ALDC conference it seemed beyond at least one person why I would want to be at the Social Liberal Forum conference but otherwise seemed to pass without comment.

As to why I was at the SLF conference, as I answered my accuser, it was as a centrist, because I enjoyed last year and also because I was part of a blogger's interview to interview one of our most successful ministers, Steve Webb.

Vince Cable was there and his talk opened the conference, about how to return to growth. I thought one of the most important points he made was that our issues these days are about identity: immigration, EU, Scotland. I hadn't considered that before but realised he had a point. This is also a point to note for Lib Dems  - that we should have something coherent to say on each of these issues. 

I'm a bit of a Martin Tod fangirl, as I admire his commitment to liberalism at a local level. He spoke eloquently, as I have heard him before, about empowering individuals in their communities, and pointed out local level campaigns can be quite "negatively determined" - i.e. Stop this sort of thing and Save that sort of thing. I agree, and am also happy that at a local level here in Stockport we are running campaigns about new libraries - difficult in straightened economic times but not impossible. 

I was surprised to find two panels in the first break-out sessions without women, as I had thought the SLF were committed to gender equality. I tweeted about it. It seemed someone from Evan Harris' panel was pregnant and unable to travel so hadn't attended. Though I was informed everyone had done their best, I was reminded of the excellent Olly Grender who, on finding that a panel had no women on it, added herself to the panel (it was an area she had expertise in).

Onto lunchtime- and I was privileged to interview Steve Webb with other bloggers, over some sandwiches. Steve was relaxed and confident as ever. I find his manner with activists to be very engaging - both on their level like Tim Farron, yet able to tax us with the intricacies of pensions, keeping us on his level and being interested in our point of view. As Kelly-Marie Blundell told us before she introduced him in the Beveridge lecture, Steve Webb polled really well ahead of the Lib Dem leadership election in 2005, and with that in mind it might be worth considering him as future leadership candidate.

My own question to Steve was over how can people of my age be sure about when they are going to retire. His reply was that within 10 years of retirement, you can be sure FOR YOU that the retirement age will not change. He also spoke eloquently about how they were trying to ensure that post retirement age was something that could be enjoyed, rather than suffered, the point being that quality of life post retirement age may not be great for some people, given many medical conditions (such as dementia) that can occur in older people.

Perhaps it was just in comparison to last year which I found very inspiring on the subjects of community wellbeing and housing, and perhaps I just didn't find the content engaging, but I didn't find the conference as inspiring this year. I admire quite a few of the members of the SLF and their aims, but they either didn't have prominence  - I'd like to see more of Prateek Buch for instance - or it didn't seem to have as much of a coherent sense of itself this year.  

I hope I'm just as welcome next year, these comments none-with-standing, and suspecting a lot of my opinion is because I had such a good time last year. My companion definitely did experience the inspiration factor, and came up with new ideas on the way home.... I really enjoyed seeing so many friends and hope the SLF conference continues into the future. Oh and have a live feed if possible!

Other blogs on the Steve Webb interview

Maolo Manning - Lib Dem Child
Caron Lindsay - Lib Dem Voice 
Mark Jewell

I'll update this "Other blogs" section as I'm made aware of them. 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

My Response to the Morrissey Inquiry

Helena Morrissey's well written report makes me want to cry in parts in a good way - pointing out that it's "simply not credible" to say there aren't good women candidates, and also that the modern world is a good place for liberal democracy to thrive - I believe both of these statements. I will and have made these points again and again, and will do until more people listen.

I think she has taken time to understand the culture and think she has done admirably well - the famous organogram is definitely the bewildering experience of many a new activist to the party - it was mine! 

The report begins by saying we should tie our values to our actions which I am 100% behind, that we shouldn't lose this focus to focus on campaigning at the loss of everything else, this is completely true. It points to items within the culture and the expenditure of the Lib Dems which seem to regard campaigning as the be all and end all, at least at times, and that I have observed as well

The practical recommendations she makes are good, and also clear that most of the things done to increase female participation have been focused on women, and that these should be extended to educating men as well - correct. It says it was disappointing that senior figures commented that women should "toughen" up, again correct - I blogged on this at the time.

It's hard reading at times but I think it is fair and sensible, definitely worth reading. However will everyone read it that needs to? I note the concerns raised about local party structure and complaint's procedures not being like HQ - this is true and symptomatic of the disconnect between HQ and LP structure. There have been initiatives to both improve diversity and also have a member of Liberal Youth in every local party exec - I'm not too sure these are happening everywhere, well-intentioned as they are. 

I think it would be good for recommendations to be implemented in full, I think it's good that Helena will come back to measure progress. I await with interest the next developments.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Words, Understanding and Disagreement

Today I felt inspired to write after discussing "cis" as a word with some twitter pals of mine, including @AAEmmerson (who all Lib Dems should follow, because he's often right)

We started talking about "cis" as a word, and I would say almost all of us debating were in fact "cis", I believe because someone had stated they found the word offensive. I don't find it offensive, but I did it find it an odd sensation when I first heard it, finding out that there was a word for me, defined by a group that didn't include me. However, that aside, it's OK as a word.

Andy went on to describe a few words for gay people (i.e. homosexual) which he thinks, though correct and factual, "are tinged with disdain", and I do think I recognise what he means.

However I think words are just words, to be honest. There are some words I wouldn't use, because I don't want to cause unnecessary offence to others. There are some words in certain contexts that show a lot about the character of the person using them - i.e. their prejudice, and also, by the fact they are prejudiced, their poor judgement and I believe, character. But the words they use to describe others are just that, words. I say this because there are some previously prejudiced words that have been reclaimed like "queer".

I understand why some people feel hurt by words, I disagree with what I understand is the belief behind that, that words can wound and hurt - it's the intention behind and isolation/fear of the group you belong to that can hurt. Ban the use of a word and people will use it anyway, just behind closed doors, and even if you could remove the word completely, there would be other ways of describing the prejudice behind it, if there wasn't, it would unfortunately quickly evolve. Such is the etymology of hate.

Therefore I think it is a Sisyphean task to ban particular words, even if that "ban" is just through social opprobrium.

As Andy said tho, it's important to understand why people might be upset, and that led me onto thinking about this article by @IsabelHardman  - that sometimes policy is dismissed because of who's proposing it - which is daft when you think about it. Time and again we hear it though, that so-and-so can't possibly understand something because of his/her personal circumstances. I find it particularly egregious of the Labour party (and it is often them) and their "out of touch" line because of this, it doesn't do politics any favours, as Isabel says.

It is possible to understand someone else even if you don't share their background or characteristics. It sometimes takes some emotional effort, and asking a lot of questions but it is worth it. However, if you do understand someone, you don't have to agree with them.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Are Ya Playin' Yaself?

I haven't started with a video in a long time, so first of all, this is a great track - Ya Playin' Yaself by Jeru the Damaja - and a cracking video:

To me, the message of the song is keep true to yourself, and don't "play yourself" - i.e. at the end of the day if you start looking outside yourself for validation too much, then you are at risk of playing yourself or deluding yourself. As the lyrics say

"Knowledge, wisdom and understanding brings long life and health
 Think anything else and ya playin' yaself "

So, what's this to do with politics? Well, I like the Libby Local series of posts on LibDemVoice - the well meaning intention, is, I believe, to show the actions of a fictional, first time council candidate as they campaign, and examine and understand the process.  I like the series and think I understand the spirit it was meant in - not completely perfect, but an idea of what's involved.The most recent installment really set me thinking: Episode 15 - vile politics.

Having read it, I was struck how poor Libby, having just been insulted terribly by Mad Max's literature intentionally slurring her for being overweight, but without mentioning her by name, did a few things - none of which I would have thought conducive to improving her self-esteem about her weight - though they may have made her feel better they didn't really address the issue of her agreeing, internally, with Max's insult.

Libby pointed out to her opponent that she had more support in the pub (external validation) and then went on to "work harder" (which deserves a post of it's own!) and then significantly, encountered a wave of positive external validation about her campaign from the bus driver and passengers, which must have been lovely, but had nothing to do with her negative beliefs about herself that Mad Max tapped into....... Essentially she was avoiding the problem......

I thought this was fascinating and discussed with some others: whatever motivations people have for getting into politics (i.e. often to "make things better") when subjected to negative personal attacks, what are we doing with that hurt? Are we feeling it? Are we working through the negative beliefs about ourselves and addressing them.... Or, are we attempting to mend our self-esteem through action outside of ourselves? It's worth thinking about.

I started to wonder if that was a more regular situation for activists than I thought - that activists and candidates may be attacked on their weak spots (and are probably likely to be) but then go on to suppress, ignore or counter those emotions instead of feeling them?

Let's look at what Libby chose not to say to herself about Max's insult - Not "I'm fat and I don't care" Not, "He's an idiot and I don't care what he says" Not "I may be fat, but I'm funny and attractive and I like myself". She internalises the insult, agrees with it, and THEN seeks to make herself feel better by concentrating on other people loving her.

That, I think, is the dodgy bit. No, it's not all bad that people love her. What is interesting is that that appears to be all she cares about rather than her relationship with herself. 

Plus, I think it's bound to create a few problems along the line. The people love her because they think she's the best choice for Libbyshire, they don't know about all this internal angst, and that can create problems in any relationship - and as discussed before I think there is a relationship between politicans and the electorate

If you look at politics as making the world better, and oneself as a conduit to that through people's needs and wants and you as a mechanism for achieving them in government, then being called fat is your personal issue (and should be resolved as such, by paying attention to your self esteem and your emotions)

It's not for you to link your self esteem to your success in elections and especially not to avoid your emotions and "squash" them by the thought that "these people love me" . I think it may actually be dishonest - to yourself and to the electorate who think you are the best person to fix their potholes, they aren't out to make you feel better about your personal issues.

And what happens if she doesn't get elected - that's a double whammy isn't it - she has to suffer personal attacks AND she finds out the electorate don't "love" her?? Surely that's going to feel twice as bad, plus she may link the two and feel they didn't vote for her because she is fat and feel really, really bad.....

If she does get elected there is still an unresolved issue, she's been hurt by this guy and her self-esteem wounded.....

And finally, when does she actually fix the self-esteem issue in this? When does she realise there IS a self-esteem issue?

So, to come back to the beginning, let's try and be sure we're not playing ourselves?

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Osborne, Thatcher, crying & emotions

My dad liked Margaret Thatcher. Quite a lot. I don't think he'd mind me saying this cos he was fairly unashamed about it whilst she was in power when i was growing up. Yes, am giving away my age a bit, but I was born a few short weeks before she came to power....... My mother, not so much of a fan.

I also grew up in a pit village - my father wasn't a miner but plenty of the families around us were. So when the miners don't seem to have a lot of sympathy for her, I remember why - there wasn't a lot of effort put into retraining them or helping their self-esteem - a point that would probably have engendered scorn from both themselves, and Margaret Thatcher herself, but then things were an almost another age ago.

In fact the time where she came to power, was certainly in the States, the dawn of a new age of psychological literacy, as outlined by M Scott Peck, in the introduction to The Road Less Travelled:

"Had The Road been published twenty years previously, I doubt it would have been even slightly successful. Alcoholics Anonymous did not really get off the ground until the mid-1950s (not that most of the book's readers were alcoholics). Even more important, the same was true for the practice of psychotherapy. The result was that by 1978, when The Road was originally published, a large number of women and men in the United States were both psychologically and spiritually sophisticated and had begun to deeply contemplate "all the kinds of things that people shouldn't talk about. " 
I've started reflecting recently about my thesis that the lack of genuine emotion shown by many politicians is at least in part, the reason why people are becoming less interested in what they say. I believe there are other reasons, of course, such as a more issue-led form of politics rather than a tribal one born by allegiance to a political party, and also media training such as "answer the question you wish had been asked" which just annoys people.

I've been wondering about how much is down to our country's culture of hiding emotions, or even better, taking action to avoid emotions and conflict, but other countries show similar trends of disengagement.

So today's post is about two kinds of emotions and the reactions they appear to produce in people. Both Thatcher and Osborne seem to be criticised for a lack of compassion tho I don't really want to comment here on that, as it's been dealt with more than adequately elsewhere.

But there seems to be a logical fallacy that because they, by others standards, don't seem to demonstrate compassion, they are to be ridiculed or judged as not having emotion (implicit assumption, that it must be fakery or crocodile tears). Much of the media reaction to Osborne's grief and sadness over Thatcher's death, especially seems to be one of ridicule - child-like bullying which seems to just be *Nelson from The Simpsons voice* "HA HA - he's crying". 

What's ludicrous about this appears to be that, through marking them both as fair game due to a lack of compassion, it's therefore OK to have a lack of compassion towards them. 

A second point is with regards to leadership. Throughout my career I've had well-meaning advice that women shouldn't cry in an office. Sheryl Sandberg tho, thinks the opposite, and all power to her - a particularly apt exhortation, you'll hopefully agree....

"Look, I'm not suggesting that the way to get to the corner office is to cry as much as possible. Nobody is going to publish the next Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and say that crying is one of them. But I am saying that it happens. It has happened to me. It has happened to me more than once. It will happen to me again. It happens to other women. Rather than spend all this time beating ourselves up for it, let's accept ourselves. OK, I cried, life went on. And I think that's part of the message of Lean In, like we are human beings, we are emotional beings and we can be our whole selves at work."
As ever, what's sauce for the corporate goose, I'm unsure why it can't be sauce for the political gander.

In conclusion, we're more psychologically literate now, the hiding of emotion and pretending to be something you're not, seem to belong to an age a long way away from us. It harks back to the playground to ridicule people for crying, but there is always someone up for doing it. When will we all, collectively, grow up about our emotions? My generation is the the generation below Thatcher's, with more psychological understanding - when will we begin to see this in our politicians, or in the reaction to them?

Update: It appears the public agree with me - by a large majority.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Giving up Twitter for Lent....

I gave up Twitter for Lent. 

What happened was as Lent approached, I realised I hadn't got a "vice" to give up - having done a (mostly) dry January I wasn't in the mood to give up booze, I don't smoke and I had done bread the year before, so wanted to try giving up something new.

I read an article which advised that it should be something that I would miss giving up and that I was worried about taking over or influencing other areas of my life. So I gave up Twitter....

A few people noticed initially and were shocked/surprised, and one friend said she'd give up Facebook and would see me on the other side - she didn't do Twitter that much. Now I'm not that much of a Facebook fan - it's too invasive, it encourages all sorts of validation seeking, people only put their "good side" up or worse, over-share. Some of these things happen on Twitter, but I think to a lesser extent, and also Twitter is very lightweight and it is easier to stop following someone than it is to "unfriend" them - with the implication you are being "unfriendly".

So, what were the results?

  • People missed me. This was really nice for my ego :) and also said I guess I must be doing something right with a mixture of sharing content I enjoy, comment on the news/politics and messing about with friends - both good friends and random people noticed they missed me
  • Lib Dem Spring Conference requires a bit more organisation, using Facebook to locate people and getting more phone numbers. This is OK, phone numbers are better communication than twitter I think - more direct. However it was apparent that some people do use Twitter as a primary communication medium - journalists especially.
  • My concentration span improved a lot and I got a LOT more done, in my personal life. I was able to concentrate on MY stuff, rather than pulled this way and that
  • I was able to "be in the present" more. 
  • I probably felt a bit less stressed. I'm calm in general, and fairly happy within myself, but it definitely stopped a lot of the "OMG" moments twitter can produce at times.
  • A lot of people told me that they "couldn't understand it" and "couldn't do it". This intrigued me - other things that I've given up, or given up for Lent, people have commented that they've tried, and failed, or tried, and suceeded - so it seemed odd to me that in this case it almost seemed like giving up breathing.
  • I still shared - just on Facebook, Google+ or by emailing/texting people. So giving up Twitter doesn't mean giving up sharing, and that in fact would be a very hard habit to break
  • Facebook annoys me just as much as ever and I've had to hide people, leave groups and turn off notifications as it's bleepy, bleepy (now literally!) ways actually invade my consciousness more than I want.  I can never do as some do and have push notifications on either Facebook or Twitter, but even the little "world" notifications on Facebook got turned off for all but my favourite groups - principally because I was spending more time there.  L'enfer, c'est les autres dans Facebook.....
  • I'm aware the last two points contradict themselves!
  • The last week has definitely been the hardest!
  • I've missed the cut-and-thrust of my friends (and strangers!) chatter, comment and want that back.
  • I've missed the immediacy of news, tho you aren't actually THAT far behind in the real world with news programmes, radio and email, there is a sense of "missing out" if you aren't on Twitter. 
Do I think I'll do anything different when I get back to Twitter (on Easter Sunday)? 

Well I hope I'll preserve the new organisational habits - Inbox Zero through using Mailbox, prioritizing everything, putting all notes in Evernote. I hope I'll read as much as I have been doing - I've read more books, more long articles from the likes of the Economist, and understood more difficult posts like this one from Fraser Nelson. I've kept up with my Top 2 - Stephen Tall and Dan Hodges through RSS feeds  - which means Netvibes (since Google decided to close Google Reader whilst I was gone). And I finally read Brideshead Revisited, and it was great! 

One thing is, I hope to have breaks in the future, and do recommend it as a "palate cleanser". But it is hard work.

If you've ever tried a Twitter break or want to, let me know in the comments.